The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein is such a great book, rich in historical detail, Chinese customs and Chinese art. I really enjoyed learning about the turbulence in China in the beginning of the 20th century as it wasn’t anything I knew about previously.
I appreciate all the hard work that must have gone into the historical detail of this fictional account of Pan Yuliang, one of the very talented Chinese artists who influenced the Post-Impressionist art movement and more importantly was a woman. In Pan Yuliang’s time it was unusual for women to be recognized for much of anything let alone art. She was a most amazing woman for her time, very strong in character and determined to do what she wanted to do for herself in regards to her love of art.
Pan Yuliang began life as Xiuqing living with her uncle after her mother had died. Unfortunately her uncle had a bad opium habit and sells her to a brothel at the age of 14 to pay off some of his debts. I was just horrified at this and my heart broke for her to be thrown into that kind of life at such a young age. Thankfully she made friends with another girl, Jinling, and I think this is what saw her through a lot of the harder times.
Finally she is rescued from the brothel by Zanhua, a man who had much more lenient beliefs when it came to Chinese women and a man who also appreciated a good mind in a woman. He saves Yuliang’s life, he loves her and in order to stop scandal, he makes her his concubine. He also introduces her to a higher education as he wants her to learn and along the way she becomes fascinated with art. As her art career evolves and she becomes noticed Zanhua is torn between wanting her to succeed and be happy to wanting a traditional home life.
I really liked Yuliang. I think the way she is brought to life in the novel really draws you into the torment she felt at the hands of evil men in the brothel or the excitement and drive she felt when it came to her art. I liked her strength. So many others would have given up but she knew that someday things would change for her and later when she was being harrassed she still held the belief that things might change. Zanhua was another favorite character because of the way he always supported Yuliang, how he wasn’t afraid to stand up to others for her. At times Yuliang would later think of how much he gave up for her and it leads her to make certain decisions pertaining to their future.
On Jennifer Cody Epstein’s website you can see some of the paintings of Pan Yuliang. I find the self-portraits wonderful. This one is my favorite…
One of the others I really like is of these flowers. I love flowers and have always loved paintings of them. This is so beautiful, the colors so vivid and realistic, that I feel I can almost smell them…
This novel is one that you will want to spend some time with. The writing is beautiful and rich, the characters complex and the descriptions of China, Shanghai and Paris amazing-you almost feel as though you are there on the streets. It will draw you in and have you engrossed until the end. It’s an amazing historical saga of the fictional life of one woman, Pan Yuliang, and one well worth reading. If you read and enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha I think you would like this one. I kept thinking to myself as I read that it reminded me in some ways of that novel which I also loved.
Many thanks to Lisa with TLC Book Tours for having me participate in the tour. You can see other tour stops for The Painter From Shanghai here.
Ooh, another great review for this book. I'm going to have to read it soon : ) Thanks for making the comparison to another book (Memoirs of a Geisha). It helps the reader when not familiar with a new book or author.
Scrap girl says
Definitely going on my list. I love books which allow you to emerse yourself in a completely different culture. Great review Dar.
I read this book with my book club when it first came out and it offers such a wealth of information. Yuliang was so ahead of her time and it was wonderful that she was able to find a man who supported her choices and allowed her to grow. I liked Zanhua though, so I cringed at some of her choices and how they affected her love even as I was cheering her for being such a strong and independent woman.
Great review Dar! I would definitely want to read it if I hadn't already.
I read this book with the TLC Tour and loved the richness and strength of this story. I agree with your review and I think that Pan Yuliang was a women ahead of her times so strong and determined to overcome her hardships.
Ms. Lucy says
Wonderful review Dar! I had heard about this book and its richness, both in text and its art- you reviewed it so well. Thanks:)
Great review — I am looking forward to reading this one.
I loved Memoirs of Geisha, so if you say so then I will look this one up 🙂
I really want to get my hands on this book because I loved Memoirs of a Geisha.
Great review and I love the illustrations you've chosen to highlight but it was the comparison to MOG that hooked me — I soooo loved that book!
I've been eyeing this one, but I wasn't sure if it could live up to its title. Now it's going on my list!
Excellent job on this thoughtful and beautiful review Dar. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this one!!!
The photos are lovely; i need to read this one. Great post! Thanks Dar
It sounds like a very satisfying read and the comparison to Memoirs really makes me want to read it. I loved that book and also the movie (a rarity).
This sounds very good Dar, and pretty book cover.
Those painting are gorgeous.
Great review! I love novels that are descriptive like that and Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favorites.
This sounds wonderful. I love books set in Asia. It's definitely going on my list.
Last week you commented on my post about Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes and said occasionally you like Christian Fiction and hope I get a better one next time. Well, I did! and it is titled The Captains Bride by Lisa Tawn Bergren. Fabulous story, I loved it. The Christian part is not over preachy (as was my complaint with Sisterchicks) and it seemed to fit the people and the time. The dialogue felt "real" to me not stilted in any way. Good book.
Beth F says
I'm finishing this up now. I'll come back to read your review.
This sounds like a really beautiful book! I enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha a lot when I read it several years ago, but I haven't read many books that are set in China (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the only one that comes to mind). I'll definitely be keeping my eye open for this one.
Great review. I don't think I've read a novel that included Chinese art. The paintings are wondeful, a great touch that really adds to the review too. Now I'm off to enter your giveaway for it.
Have you read Lisa See? The cultural aspect of the culture makes me think of her books. I'm wondering how they compare.
Wow! Sounds Terrific! And Iloe the paintings that You have mentioned here!
I am glad you are giving away a copy 🙂
You've really written a nice review. And the book sounds wonderful. I am a fan of Chinese and japanese historical fiction, including the early 20th cent. so this book is pretty much right up my alley.
Great review! I have been reading a lot about this book recently, and think it looks very interesting. Glad you liked it!
Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books says
LOVED this book! I don't rate books on my blog, but if I did, THE PAINTER FROM SHANGHAI would be a 5-star! (of 5!)
Yes, like you, I was amazed by everything that Yuliang went thru -so many extremes of ups and downs. The relationships were incredibly intense.
Good comparison to MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, another solid book that teaches a lot about the culture of the time. Did you read GUERNICA? I was reminded of this, too, as it told the backstory to a Picasso painting (and I don't know much about fine art, so I appreciated the education).
Fantastic review, Dar!
Sounds wonderful. Thanks for the review.
Literary Feline says
I'm really looking forward to reading this one. I do not know much in the way of art history, but I do enjoy reading books about other cultures and histories. Thanks for your great review, Dar.
S. Krishna says
Wasn't the research that went into this book just amazing? Great review!
Teddy Rose says
Great review! I just started this one.
This was an amazing book. I read it last year. (My review is here.) Glad you enjoyed it, too. I agree that it must've taken a lot of research. Thanks for posting the paintings.
Diary of an Eccentric
It sounds like a beautiful story of courage and strength. I also love the flower picture.
Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments on The Painter From Shanghai. I hope those of you who haven't had a chance to read it, get to. If you do, make sure to leave me your link so I can see your thoughts on it.
Nicole, I agree. This book is so full of information. I really liked Zanhua also and was bothered by some of her choicees as well. He was such a good man that a lot of the time I wish she had given more to him. Then again, with her past, I wonder if that's all she had.
Ti, I loved Memoirs also and the movie which for me too is a rarity. I almost always do not like the movie. That is one book I kept and hope to reread some day.
Jill, I have all of Lisa See's books but haven't read them as of yet. I was lucky enough to win Shanghai Girls from Redlady's Reading Room and I think that'll be the first one I read so I'm not sure how they compare at this point.
Dawn, I don't rate books either on my blog but, like you, if I did it would have gotten a 5 out of 5. I haven't read Guernica but I will check it out for sure. Thanks.
The Book Resort says
What an terrific review, Dar. The cover is lovely.